Earth Day is upon us. We should do something to note the occasion. Things like plant a tree or garden, or get together with neighbors to volunteer in our community come immediately to mind. I want to do those and more.
An individual can do a lot to improve the environment. We are past the point of relying solely on individual actions to address environmental problems.
The non-profit Conservation Coalition recently posted video of Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks. She said, “We don’t talk about very simple things that we can do that will allow us to both clean our environment, have a better environment, let people enjoy nature, but then also will be very productive and low cost going into the future.”
Individuals can do more. However, reducing acid rain, to which she referred in the video, was accomplished neither by an individual, nor was it low cost. Acid rain was addressed by George H.W. Bush signing the 1990 Clean Air Act.
We need more environmental accountability driven by the Congress, specifically by Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and Miller-Meeks. Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: the issues only government can address. We need focus on government action this Earth Day.
Where does society stand as Earth Day approaches? On shaky ground.
The Iowa legislature was unable to pass a revised bottle bill this year. Grocers and other retailers have wanted out of the responsibility to accept recycled cans and bottles since the beginning in 1978. If the legislature passes anything, it would be to relieve them of this duty once and for all. That’s how we roll in Iowa under Republican rule.
The problem with any of the states that has a bottle bill is not the amount of deposit, recycler handling fees, or the decision which containers are covered. It is that even with the best programs too much plastic, glass and metal finds its way into the waste stream. For Pete’s sake, it’s raining microplastics and the ocean is inundated with the stuff. Bottle bills create a diversion from the problem of regulating manufacturers, they assert that consumers are responsible for this form of pollution. Blaming consumers is an old sawhorse originating in the industry-backed Crying Indian campaign of 1971. If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize this commercial.
Iowa is a state that does not care about the quality of our water except to comply with public drinking water standards. We have more livestock than people here and between manure runoff, field drainage tile, and surface runoff, our list of impaired waters is very high. Just this month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved a cattle feedlot in the watershed of a pristine trout stream.
“IDNR’s refusal to disapprove the plan submitted by Supreme Beef shows the sad state of affairs in Iowa when it comes to animal feeding operations. State laws and the DNR both prioritize new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over protecting our streams, rivers, and lakes,” Iowa Environmental Council attorney Michael Schmidt said in a statement.
There are two main components to environmental protection. Personal actions and government regulation of polluters. The largest corporations would like to see a focus on individual action because they seek to divert our attention from their corporate behaviors and what it would cost for them to improve. Elected officials? They mostly would like to avoid controversy with the electorate that put them in office. I eat a vegetarian diet, so I avoid most hog, cattle and chicken products. It’s not doing the job of environmental protection from livestock pollution.
Earth Day has become a celebration of Spring where individuals do things: clean up litter, plant a garden, or go on a bicycle ride. While personal action to improve the environment remains important, what matters more is corporate accountability, something a small group of industrialists is working hard to get us to avoid. Like the Crying Indian advertisement, they seek to distract us.
On Earth Day 2021, we must focus on holding corporate polluters accountable. That means working with elected officials to get something done to protect the environment. We’ll have to be persistent, though. In Iowa our federal elected officials don’t want to hear about holding their financial backers accountable. Even with our Republican office holders, one hopes repetition can lead to belief. Not contacting them about the environment is exactly what corporate interests want us to do.
This winter is shaping up to be a scary one. There has not been a substantial cold snap where the ambient temperature remains below zero for a week or more. We need that to suppress the insects living in the ground that feed on our plant life in the garden and yard when it gets warmer. Cold weather is also the best time to prune fruit trees.
It’s no surprise it’s getting warmer.
Atmospheric CO2 concentration hit 413.95 ppm at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in December 2020. In my birth year of 1951 the global average was 311.80. There is a direct correlation between atmospheric CO2 and planetary warming. Our best hope is it’s not too late to mitigate rising CO2 levels.
According to NASA, 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record in global average surface temperature. According to this chart, the rise in global surface temperature is in an accelerating upward trend since the baseline period of 1951-1980.
In the general election of 2020, Americans took a necessary step toward climate action by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the president and vice president willing to examine and understand the science of climate change and take action. Because Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president, he knows what to do. It would have been better to elect a stronger majority in the legislative branch of the federal government, yet we didn’t. The majority we have will serve as we can’t wait two years to increase the majority of science believers in the midterms.
The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Like the election, it’s a beginning step. The Paris Agreement is flawed, yet it is difficult to see how the world makes progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions without the kind of cooperation it envisioned. Our country simply must be part of the discussion.
As a single citizen, or a small family, it is difficult to see how to help. We can and should reduce our personal carbon footprint, especially by doing things that don’t require a lot of capital: use less hot water, set the furnace thermostat lower, run the air conditioner at a higher temperature, use less gasoline and natural gas, eschew air travel and long automobile trips. The coronavirus pandemic kept many of us at home and that had a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually we will learn to live with the coronavirus and when we do, the need to control emissions will remain.
These are scary times. One view is there is nothing to be done about all this. The apocalypse is coming and the best we can do is mitigate its impact on us as individuals. It’s a vision of doomsday preppers, isolated and remote enclaves of the wealthy, and an attitude of preserving self as the catastrophe hits. I reject this view. We are stronger together and together we should remain in mitigating the impact of climate change.
It also seems important to focus on the big picture. Political leadership is required to make progress. For some of us, such leaders won’t be as bold as we want or feel is needed. We can’t relent on our politics.
Iowa has had its recent climate-related difficulties, floods in 1993 and 2008, tornadoes, straight line wind, a derecho, and drought. At the same time row crop yields were decreased due to climate change, as in the 2012 drought, a new, diverse agriculture remains possible because of our growing conditions. Gardeners like me contribute to resolving climate change by growing more of our own food. The process would be scalable if the importance of growing more local food were more generally accepted. We do what we can with local resources and conditions. We could do more.
Scary as it is, we can’t get depressed. It is human nature to be hopeful and hope is one of our most powerful attributes. It is important to be realistic about where we stand on mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases. For the next years, the picture isn’t going to be pretty. We can’t give up. We must persist in the effort to make our communal lives better. That’s what I plan to do.
2020 has been stressful for trees and shrubs. Our lilac bushes are in bloom. It’s October.
I remember when autumn colors took my breath away. Stunning reds, yellows, greens and browns spread out across the other side of the lake.
It wasn’t breath-taking this year as I jogged along the state park trail.
The trees seemed sparse. More than last year. The yellow, brown and green colors were subdued or muted, as if the forest had one hella year like the rest of us. This side of the lake, tree damage from the derecho is everywhere. As winter approaches uncertainty abounds.
One hopes for catharsis on Nov. 3 yet I don’t know. Ticket sales from Broadway performances in New York have been suspended until May 2021. It seems like forever until then.
Without an anemometer it was difficult to know wind speed during Monday’s derecho. In Cedar Rapids wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour.
The last major storm of straight-line winds in 2013 caused more damage to our property than the derecho. Both were bad.
I watched the storm come in until it got so virulent we headed to our safe place on the lower level. The kitchen clock stopped at 12:34 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10. Electricity was restored at 10:14 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, the longest outage since we moved here.
Derechos may not be as well known as hurricanes or tornadoes, but these rare storms can be just as powerful and destructive. Primarily seen in late spring and summer in the central and eastern United States, derechos produce walls of strong wind that streak across the landscape, leaving hundreds of miles of damage in their wake. On August 10, 2020, a derecho swept across the Midwest from South Dakota to Ohio, traveling 770 miles in 14 hours and knocking out power for more than a million people.
The term derecho—which means “straight ahead” in Spanish—was coined in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa who sought to distinguish these straight-moving winds from the swirling gusts of a tornado. Though the term disappeared from use shortly afterward, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resurrected it a hundred years later. It entered the public lexicon in 2012, when one of the most destructive derechos in history swept across roughly 700 miles from Ohio to the mid-Atlantic coast, killing 22 people and causing serious damage in metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.
NOAA officially defines a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” For a swath of storms to be classified as a derecho, it must travel at least 240 miles and move at speeds of at least 58 miles an hour, though the winds are often more powerful. The August 2020 Midwest derecho had winds up to 112 miles an hour.
I have more to say about this storm and the damage it did. Suffice it for now the storm hit hard the trees I’ve grown from saplings. The Pin Oak took the brunt of the wind damage, the windward side losing several of its main branches. The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major limb, the Locust tree blew completely over demolishing the most productive part of the summer garden. Half of the pear crop shook loose from the tree dropping unusable green fruit. Among the wreckage on the ground I found a single Earliblaze apple. I hadn’t noticed we had any apples this year. I ate the apple on the spot. It was delicious (apple joke).
We survived the storm with no damage to our house. I watched the portable greenhouse shake loose four 50-pound buckets of sand, lift into the air, and tumble off into a neighbor’s yard, destroyed. Without electricity I couldn’t can the tomato harvest so I donated 25 pounds to the local food rescue operation.
We are now veterans of two major wind events and developed a process to cope with the aftermath.
Because of the long electricity outage, we became owners of a Craftsman generator which we used to keep the freezer and refrigerator running, as well as to charge devices, run computers, operate a floor fan, and heat water. We plan to keep it.
We had the septic tank pumped for additional capacity in case of an extended electrical outage. The septic service showed up just as electricity was restored.
We hired a U.S. military veteran from Alabama to help cut damaged branches from the Pin Oak. The yard is filled with fallen branches waiting for me to cut them up for firewood or for burning. A big portion of the fallen Locust tree remains on the garden. I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.
I didn’t realize it at the time but the clouds in this photo are the front edge of the derecho blowing in. It will be a while before we recover. We will recover.
The climate crisis continues in the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic with its economic downturn threatens years of progress addressing climate change and sustainability. It’s now or never for the environment.
Governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again. Addressing the climate crisis can’t wait. Climate solutions must be integrated with stimulus spending.
“We now have a unique opportunity to use (the economic crisis) to do things differently and build back better economies that are more sustainable, resilient and inclusive.” said Saadia Zahidi, World Economic Forum managing director.
WEF warned that “omitting sustainability criteria in recovery efforts or returning to an emissions-intensive global economy risks hampering the climate resilient low-carbon transition.”
Sustainability should be integrated into recovery efforts because the health crisis, economy, and environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery. Trillions can be spent only once. Given the scope of the climate crisis, its pressing urgency, society must choose to address the climate crisis now.
The International Energy Agency has ideas on how to do that. They developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” However, no single solution applies to global matters. We need multiple solutions implemented synchronously.
Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels surged back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the economic recovery. We must persist in demanding a solution.
Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe.”
No one knows how long we have. It’s common sense that stimulus money could be used in a holistic way. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.
That few in our government talk about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.
Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.
Al Gore recently said, “Moving forward from COVID-19 means we have an obligation to rethink the relationships among business, markets, government and society. We must deliver a sustainable form of capitalism.”
That’s not going to happen without a change in our government.
People ask me how I plan to address the climate crisis. My answer?
It’s time to stand up for what is needed in our country right now: moral revival and transformative change. That means voting for Democrats in November.
Postscript: Since I wrote this post Joe Biden released his plan to ensure the future is “‘Made in All of America’ by all of America’s workers.” The word climate is mentioned once in a paragraph to “apply a carbon adjustment fee against countries that are failing to meet their climate and environmental obligations.” I support Biden for president and encourage readers to read his Made in America plan here. Like any plan it will be subject to modification if Biden is elected president. One modification I expect is to integrate addressing the climate crisis in the plan.
As the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, governments are expected to spend trillions of dollars in stimulus to get the economy going again.
It’s now or never for the environment. Sustainability should be integrated into recovery plans because the health crisis, the economy and the environment are inextricably connected. There is only one chance to manage this recovery to improve environmental sustainability. There are only so many times trillions can be spent to jump start the economy. Sustainability must be considered and become part of any stimulus plan.
People have ideas on how to do that. The International Energy Agency developed a 174-page essay titled “Sustainable Recovery.” They revised “should” to “could” when recommending the plan, as a step toward political correctness in presentation. Sadly, no single logic applies to global matters. One is being political whether they say something about climate change or not when discussing the recovery.
Global carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 17 percent in April as people sheltered at home, industry reduced production, and automobile use slowed. Since then, emission levels are surging back. A conscious decision to integrate smart energy use into the recovery is needed. The issue has been politicized so thoroughly it seems doubtful any such action will be taken in the United States.
Fiona Harvey, environmental correspondent for the Guardian reported, “The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe, one of the world’s foremost energy experts has warned.”
No one know how long we have. It’s common sense we will spend stimulus money in the quantities planned only once. Ideas are out there. What’s lacking is political will.
The fact that almost no one is talking about addressing the climate crisis as we “open up” the economy is part of the problem. Oil and gas interests have so infiltrated our government politicians don’t want to hear about solar or wind generated energy, even if they are the least expensive and least damaging regarding carbon dioxide emissions.
Think about it though. When has doing what makes sense gotten so politically out of fashion? Among other things, that needs to change.
The shoreline was exposed as I crossed Coralville Lake to secure provisions.
While it looks like we are in a drought, it is better to say we are ready for extra water coming from upstream snow melt and spring rains flowing into the Mississippi River basin.
Lake water level is decided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a function of their plan to mitigate flood damage. The experience was a reminder ours is a built environment.
I stopped at a chain drug store and at the wholesale club to stock up. I’ve been donning a mask and going shopping every other week during the pandemic. Most other people inside retail establishments wear masks. If I didn’t want dairy products or were vegan I’d go to town less often, maybe once a month.
We harvest something daily from the garden. This morning it was spinach. With a spring share from the farm, I’m getting backed up on greens. It’s time to make vegetable broth for canning. I’ll carry six quarts over from last season and want 20 quarts on the shelf to make it through another year. Broth has become a pantry staple. I use it to cook rice, make a roux, and add flavor to soup.
In addition to making broth, today’s work will be preparing the main tomato bed for planting. That means to spade lanes in the plot, rototill the lanes, rake the surface smooth, lay garden cloth on the surface and put enough grass clippings on top to hold it down until the seedlings are in. I’m short of grass clippings for mulch but tomatoes are a high priority and will take the entire stockpile.
My creativity is at a low level and I’m not sure why. Partly it is the coronavirus pandemic, partly something else. Perhaps I’m simply enjoying this glorious spring weather — the part before insects begin foraging every living plant. Spring serves as fit distraction for what ails us. One can do a lot worse than spring.
Pollinators came in abundance and did their work. Now it’s snowing flower petals.
The collapse of insect populations is a well-documented phenomenon. 40 percent of insect species are threatened with extinction, due mostly to habitat loss by conversion to intensive agriculture. Agricultural chemical pollutants, invasive species and climate change are additional causes, according to Biological Conservation.
In our yard insect populations find a home, begin doing their work, and cause trouble in the garden almost as soon as freezing temperatures abate. They are relentless. Humans should be so relentless.
Because of insects our yard has a bird population. They nest in the fruit trees and lilac bushes. They perch everywhere there is something upon which to stand. It’s easy to find them chasing insects through the air. It’s for the birds and insects I use no weed killers or lawn fertilizers and let the grass go to seed.
We are an island in a sea of agriculture. When wheat is harvested Japanese beetles head to property like ours where they feed on certain types of vegetation. Corn and soybean harvests result in visits of additional species of displaced insects. It is important to consider the world outside our property lines as insects know few boundaries and what farmers do a section of two over impacts us.
The first white butterfly flew around the cruciferous vegetables yesterday. They lay eggs on foliage which hatch and produce green worms that eat said foliage. It didn’t take long after planting for the butterfly to show up.
I observed a number of bee species during the pear tree pollination. Dandelions are an excellent source of early pollen for bees so I let them go. A large bumble bee lumbered through the air, laden with pollen, and flew through an opening in the chicken wire mesh around a garden plot.
The pear tree is being pollinated as I type this post. If pears form this year there will be another struggle with Japanese beetles over the fruit. Last year we lost the whole crop to the pests.
I went out to the garden before sunrise to see if I could catch the culprit eating my Pak Choy. In order to defend against bugs they need to be identified. I shone the light on my mobile phone but couldn’t find it today.
I turned to the arugula which reaching maturity. I returned to the garage, got a colander, a pair of scissors, and a knee pad, and pulled back the fencing to harvest a big bunch. I removed an insect, cleaned it and put it away in the ice box.
When I returned from a shift at the farm I made a lunch using this process:
Add two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil to a large bowl. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice, tablespoon of home made apple cider vinegar and finely minced spring garlic. Salt and pepper to taste. Whisk until incorporated. Fill a serving bowl with arugula and dump it into the larger bowl. Toss gently until the leaves are coated. Return the salas to the serving bowl. Sprinkle feta cheese on top and serve.
I noted the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with a letter to the editor.
“That’s it?” I asked myself this morning.
Next I reminded myself the essential environmental task between now and the general election is to remove as many Republicans as possible from office nationally, in Iowa, and locally.
When I attended Al Gore’s slideshow presentations and the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training I held certain assumptions about how government would work. What may have been isn’t or has been tossed out the window in the time of Donald Trump’s political leadership.
When I say we should “Act on Climate” it means getting involved in politics to elect people who will address the climate crisis. None of us can do much alone.
Our choices are few but to do the work of getting people to vote. Six months from the election Democrats can feel the wind at our backs. Nonetheless it will be a hard sail to shore and a foundation on which we can begin to face the challenges of the climate crisis more directly.